Political Conventions-Preaching to the Choir

Political Conventions-A Dinosaur?

I don’t get political here because this is a blog about travel.  However, after traveling to the RNC in Tampa FL, I have reached the conclusion that the conventions are an exercise staged exclusively for the media.  While this might not be news to most of you, it was a little bit of a surprise to me.  I was clinging to a thread of a notion that the political conventions served some purpose, other than to provide fodder for news outlets (The Wall Street Journal included).  However, after having a little time do to the delay in the RNC starting by a day, I did a little research and discovered what the delegates actually do.

What do today’s delegates do at the convention? They may discuss party issues, listen to speeches, and participate in party “pep rallies.” But for the most part, nothing political actually happens at political conventions in the 21st century. The convention concludes with a carefully planned speech by the party’s nominee for president, whose identity has been known for months.

The climax of these little shin-digs is supposed to be the “acceptance” of the candidacy of the nominee for the office of president.  In the case of the RNC 2012, this acceptance speech was proceeded by a lot, and I mean a lot, of trite rethoric by key party members about the nommiees humanity, and general qualifications for the job.  It includes a lot of bashing of the other party, even worse if they are challenging a current administration.  Of course, that’s easy…the current adminstaration has had 3.5 years of mistakes to give the challenging party lots of material for critisism and jokes.  Politics is like that, ok, I understand.

What I object to is the huge amount of money that is spent in the running of these political clambakes.  The RNC spent 2.5 million on the stage alone.  A stage on which they talked about the high unemployment rate and  there being no money in the economy.  This money in addition to the $20 million spent to re-do the venue, The Tampa Bay Times Forum, and un-told and un-reported millions spent on security, staging, hotels, parties, and screen-printed sunglasses.

The Democratic National Convention, which I will be traveling to Charlotte for next week, spent and estimated $7 million on re-doing their venue, The Time Warner Cable Arena (what a sexy name) but no figures yet on what they spent on everything else.  I do know that what they might not spend on sets, they will spend on venues.  They are having their little party in two different locations, the Time Warner Cable Arena and The Bank of America Stadium, so I am sure the costs are on par with the Republicans.

All this to project an image.  I sat and watched and listened to the delegates on the floor this week and was still amazed at the human pact mentality and how everyone wants to belong to something and  if that something is vehemently aganist someone else’s something then it is all the stronger.  I guess the RNC provides a place for them to reinforce their Republicanism and assure themselves that God and the power of right is on their side still.  I did feel like telling the various speakers at the podium all week as they preached to the 4,405 delegates int he hall, “Hey, calm down, don’t worry, you already have these guy’s votes.  It’s the other millions of americans who aren’t here that you have to worry about.”

Will the DNC be any different?  The Democratic party certainly hopes it will be perceived that way.  I will see what happens in Charlotte, and get back to you.

The Perfect Pub

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub
The front room at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Best time for a quiet pint is between 2:00pm and 5:00pm.

Everyone has their idea of what an English Pub should be.  For my part, my idea of a pub was heavily influence by British comedy imports I watched on PBS as a kid.  By heavily influenced I mean to say that that was my only influence to any and everything British.  Growing up isolated in a small Texas town, we didn’t’ have munch in the way of exposure to anything British.  English to us was something you put on the cue ball to at the pool hall.

Ask five people what their idea of a pub is and you will get different five answers.  Unless they are just coming from the pub, in which case you will probably get five dissertations about their “local” and how American’s don’t understand ale and why is that all we want is cold lager.

Pubs in London are funny.  They cater to our sense of old London.  You can find many, many pubs with “ye old English” exteriors and interiors carefully designed to trigger that warm, cozy feeling.  But, there is some truth behind the image of a pub being filled with old wood, brass and watercolor drawings of cricket players.  Pubs, or Public Houses, by their definition, are central to their neighborhood and communities.   It is the great equalizer between all classes in the town.

After spending time in England and visiting a number of pubs, purely in the name of research, mind you, I have determined that what a pub is supposed to be turns out to be a very individual thing, so I include a few notes on a couple that fit my bill as a classic pub.

The Duke

This little pub was really discovered by my wife during a visit to London in 2011.  It is stuck in the 1940s from the decor to the music.

Hidden in a quiet neighborhood, The Duke is a classic local pub.

Food-wise, they are a step up from classic pub fare.  I recommend the banger and mash or the fish and chips. They don’t do anything exceptionally original, but both dishes are excellently prepared and presented.

This is a quiet pub that is truly local.  Hidden in a neighborhood in near Russell Square, it is well off the tourist circuit.  You need to search for this gem.  It would be difficult to stumble upon it because it is buried deep within a neighborhood and well away from the tube station.

In this case the pub is larger than the restaurant.  It was built in 1946, end of WWII.  The place has literally changed very, very, little since.  They add a certain kitsch element by playing ‘40’s era music, but I am a sucker for that.  The food is a step up from “pub grub” and their fish and chips are excellent.  The atmosphere is such that I really expect everyone around a piano to break out in a chorus of “White Cliffs of Dover” at any moment and if you don’t get that reference you haven’t been watching enough British Comedies on PBS.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

It took several visits to this old establishment to convince me that I liked it as a pub.   I avoided this place for a while just because of the “Ye Olde” on the sign.  That is until a friend of mine actually took me there and I eat my words, along with some fish and chips.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England

The historic claims of the Cheshire are dubious, which are the best kind of claims for a pub, and they have no firm grip in anything resembling history.  Cheshire’s claim to fame is the it was built, or rather, re-built in 1667, which rather happily coincides with the Great Fire of London, in which most of the pubs were destroyed and the fact that Dr. Samuel Johnson was a regular.

A list of famous people who actually did visit this pub reads like a who’s who of  Victorian and Edwardian literature: Mark Twain, Charles Dickinson, G.K. Chesterton, Alfred Tennyson, to name a few.  This is a far greater claim to fame that Dr. Johnson, but who am I to question marketing decisions?

Ok, the food is nothing to write home about.  It is an interesting place because of it’s history, so don’t go for the food.  The real magic happens in the front room.

What I call the “front room” exemplifies everything I ever thought a pub should be.  A small room with a gloomy charm, from the grey afternoon light seeping in from the high glass-paned windows to the rickety pock-marked table right down to the sawdust on the floor, this small room represents everything I could ever want in a pub on a Saturday afternoon.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England

At every point, every pub was the new place.  What’ s to say that the pubs and sports-bars of today won’t be the classic British pubs circa 2012 in fifty years?  The whole point of the public house is to be public.  It is a gathering place for people.  Have you ever noticed that each pub is different, but the feeling it creates is the same?

One place I visited in Somerset, The Manor House Inn, was the classic place you find in the country all over England.  It includes a restaurant that serves locally sourced food.  But the heart of the place is the little area known as the local.  It’s usually a small area and most patrons stand, drinking the local ale or, in the case of Somerset, local cider.  It really is the place where the news is spread, gossip is passed.

I sat and listened to three men, who were obviously there everyday, talk about fishing.

On the afternoon I was there, they were discussing the on-going controversy of live bait vs a spinner lure.

“That must be the life, sittin’ round fishin’ all day” said the first.

“You know when the water calm, the best thing is a fly.” said the second, ignoring the slight to his character.

“But you have to be even with the water for a spinner because of the angle,” said the other, demonstrating the angle for lure in relation to the bank.

“Well a fish isn’t daft, you know, it isn’t going to swim upwards chasing a shinny thing…” chimed in the older of the three.

This conversation went on for about twenty minutes.  The man with the spinner caught two “pretty good” sized pike.

A pub is what you make of it.  It can be dive bar, a sports bar, or even god forbid a chain restaurant, but a “pub” is a state of mind. All the atmosphere in the world doesn’t mean a thing without the people to fill it.

On The Streets Where They Lived

Unseen Tours of London
I talk with Vinney, a guide for “Unseen Tours” of London.

VIDEO: Take a tour with Unseen Tours of London While in London, I met an unusual tour group who trains the homeless to give tours of the areas of the city where the used to live.  They are called “Unseen Tours.”  Website: http://sockmobevents.org.uk